I joined the school band in 1961, playing baritone (euphonium) and then switched to tuba, which I played all through high school and also in college.
I began playing guitar in 1964. I formed my first combo and joined the Musician's Union in 1965, and played my first professional gig on September 25, 1965. I have, for the most part, been a Union musician and am currently a member of Local 325, San Diego. During this period, I studied with Johnny Adams, a popular USO guitarist, where I learned chord solo style playing, jazz improvisation and fills.
I taught private guitar lessons part-time and full-time from 1968 to 1978. During this time I also attended college and received a music education degree from Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA in 1972, and also attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1973. My teachers at college included Maurice White, classical guitar, and Ed McGuire, a popular jazz guitarist who has written books for Mel Bay publications. During this time I also worked a heavy schedule of nightclub appearances, including a full-time tour in 1974-1975.
I currently hold a Doctor of Divinity degree and an honorary PhD.
I moved to San Diego area in 1978 where I worked as an assistant manager for Guitar Center 1979-1980 and as Division Manager of Therle Music from 1982 until they closed in 1986. I then entered the music wholesale field, working for Pennino Music and covering the territory from San Clemente to San Diego to Yuma.
In 1988, I began working part-time for the San Diego Community College District. After 25 years with SDCCD, I am now a full-time tenured professor. Although I began as a music teacher, I am now teaching Business Information Technology. I also work part-time for Grossmont College as an online instructor teaching how to become a Virtual Assistant, and have worked there as a CSIS lecturer, Business Office Technology instructor, and Learning & Resource Technology instructor since 1995.
During this time, I continued to play with a variety of San Diego bands, sometimes as often as five days per week. I have had the opportunity to work with many well-known entertainers such as Lou Christe, the Outsiders, the Brass Tacks, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, Johnny West, California, Tiffany and others, either as an opening act or as a sideman.
Although I played a variety of styles, I managed to win the San Diego Country Music Association "Entertainer of the Year" award in 1983, as well as awards for "Most Versatile," "Best Harmonica Player," and "Best Band."
In the not too distant past, I worked with three San Diego bands: "Phase 4" featured 60's & 70's rock and features strong vocal harmony. "Missing Oldies Band" played standards, blues, country and swing. "Prime Time" consisted of a female vocalist, her husband on bass and myself on guitar (plus a drum machine). This gave me the opportunity to reach out with my guitar playing and fill in a lot of holes. Prime Time was one of the most popular small dance combos in the San Diego area, and played engagements all over the county.
I am currently working as a single, performing both folk and jazz music. From November 24, 2009 until June 7, 2011, I worked with the contemporary Christian country rock group "Rightside" (formerly known as the "Gospel Review Vocal Band"). This is an exciting band that has been around for 10 years. The group featured 4 part vocal harmony as well as a driving country rock/jazz ensemble of musicians and, in my estimation, compared favorably with some of the top talent currently on tour from the Nashville area. I also currently work occasionally with two San Diego "variety" jazz combos, the "Memory Lane Combo Band," and the "Paragon" band. Check my booking calendar for more information.
Also, I am available to play acoustic or electric guitar with bands for dance or concert shows, or as a session musician and/or arranger on recording projects
I have recently released five CDs on the independent Audio Barn label plus one with "Rightside" entitled "Living On The Rightside." My self-produced CDs include "Lucky 21" (2005) which contains 21 musical arrangements, both vocal and instrumental, from a variety of musical styles including jazz, smooth jazz, folk, folk rock, blues, classic rock, country, western and bluegrass. "Christmas In The Appalachians" (2005) contains popular vocal and instrumental Christmas songs in both traditional and jazz styles. In September 2010, I released a CD of the smooth jazz group "Elan" that contains 12 songs by the band that was recorded either at a rehearsal, or live at "Lorenzo's" lounge in El Cajon, CA in 1985. This CD is only offered through my web site at at Tom Smerk concerts and is not available commercially. I included it because the songs sound fantastic, and it is one of the first examples of the music that would become known as "Smooth Jazz." "For The Faithful" (2010) is a collection of 12 of my favorite "old style" hymns like those families used to sing in church in the "olden days," hymns such as "Old Rugged Cross," "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," "Lily Of The Valley," "How Great Thou Art," "Softly And Tenderly," "I'll Fly Away," and "Somebody Touched Me." The CD also features four of my own compositions: "The Full Armor Of God," "Salvation," "The Merciful Plea," and "High Time In My Life." Also included in an arrangement of Kris Kristofferson's "Why Me?" All 12 songs on the CD are recorded in an older country & western style. My latest CD, released May 2011, is "Will Play Jazz For Food." This album contains 14 instrumental jazz/pop guitar songs including one original song, "Dulzura," that I wrote for this CD. All of my CDs are available from the Store area of this web site.This year and next will find me working on three more CDs. "Still Folkin' Around," will contain my arrangements of popular `60's folk songs, and another will contain mostly original songs as well as a few of my own arrangements. Another CD might be titled "Got Twang" (until I think of a better name), and will feature instrumental pop songs featuring the "twangy" electric guitar sound, songs such as "Apache," "Guitar Boogie," "Honky Tonk," "Pipeline," "Walk, Don't Run," "Penetration," "The Lonely One," "40 Miles Of Bad Road," "Rebel Rouser," and my own 1965 surf instrumental "Vandrell Stomp.
In addition to performing and recording music, I also work as an arranger, producer, music career consultant, teacher, workshop lecturer, artist development consultant, blogger, and in other non-music fields such as "Virtual Office Assistant," "Business Administrative Consultant," and college professor for Business Information Technology. If you are striving to make a career in either the music field or in office systems, contact me because I probably have a program that can help you realize your goals!